A disturbing teenage murder/attempted suicide gets a thorough working-over from all angles—and leaves readers just as mystified at the end as at the beginning. Chris is your typical disaffected adolescent sitting around with his less-intelligent friend grousing about life, school, and parents while listening to his favorite band, Shallow Grave, at ear-bleeding volume. Then Chris gets his hands on a gun, and soon his friend is dead and he himself is barely hanging on in the intensive care ward with critical head injuries. Lindsay’s story jumps back and forth from this point, trying to make sense of the how and the why. Chris’s life is an easily recognizable one. Bored with school and suburbia, enraged at his clueless parents, he turns to Shallow Grave with an increasingly obsessive attention. His parents, a near-alcoholic salesman and detached-from-reality housewife, are shown trying to piece together their life after Chris has blown it apart. There’s no lack of real effort here: you can almost feel Lindsay straining at the keyboard, trying to squeeze understanding and empathy into every single line. That effort, unfortunately, leads to an After School Special tone that the novel is never able completely to shake, though it steers clear of easy explanations, even when seeming just on the verge of major speeches (which is often).
An evenhanded sense of purpose and good intention aren’t enough to save this one from its deadly earnestness.